Logos Can Make You Loco
by Chad Rueffert

“Of course, everyone recognizes successful identity design when they see it.  Kodak’s famous yellow and black K, Nike’s swoosh, McDonald’s golden arches and IBM’s bold letterforms are among the logos we recognize immediately.  No explanation is necessary.  These are identities that have stood the test of time.”


That’s a quote from Cheryl Cullen and Amy Schell in their book “Identity Solutions – How to Create Effective Brands With Letterheads, Logos and Business Cards”.  Your logo is the face of your business.  The design, color and personality of your logo will immediately give the public an impression of your business that will influence their perception of your product and company from the minute they see it.


But that’s not what I want to talk about.  It is virtually impossible to give blanket advice on how to design logos for individual companies.  Instead, what I want to discuss is logo USAGE. 


IBM, one of the world’s most recognized names and symbols, once created what they referred to as the “wall of shame.”  Across that wall they posted over a hundred different misuses of their simple, three letter logo.  All across the world, one of the most recognizable brand symbols was undergoing an undesired evolution that would eventually lead to a lack of cohesive identifiably that is the hallmark of a true brand.


Whether you are creating a new corporate image, or simply trying to reap the benefits of brand equity you’ve already built, here are some tips for ensuring proper logo usage.


Design your logo in PMS colors
Traditional printing uses a mix of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (CMYK) inks in various proportions to create every color in the spectrum.  That means you can create an orange color through a wide mix of inks, in a limitless variety of shades.  If you instead use the Pantone Matching System of colors for your logo, you can specify the EXACT color that you want and all printers can reproduce it.  As they say on their website:  “Whether you are creating a logo, a product, packaging, an ad, the latest fashion trend or a vision, we have the tools and solutions for keeping your colors accurate and consistent cross-media, around the world. The PANTONE Color language is the most universally understood standard available.  The PANTONE MATCHING SYSTEM is the definitive international reference for selecting, specifying, matching and controlling ink colors.

Once you have chosen your PMS colors, when possible, print your marketing materials using those colors in addition to the CMYK process printing.  The cost will be slightly more, but the consistency is often worth it.

Create A Black and White Logo for Black and White Usage
The logo you print in color is not necessarily the logo you want to use for black and white printing.  Colors, when converted to black and white, are usually converted to a “grayscale.”  That means that the yellow in your logo will not print black, but instead will print in a shade of gray.  A light yellow color might be such a light shade that it isn’t even visible.  Your graphic designer can and should create a specific black and white logo that uses grayscale only where appropriate.  This is then the logo that should be used any time black and white output is intended.

Retain a Vector or Original Electronic File of Your Logo
It’s a digital world.  You absolutely must have electronic versions of your logo to supply to printers, web designers, business partners, etc.  But beware.  There are literally dozens of electronic formats for graphics, and they are not all equal.  If your logo was created electronically (i.e. created on the computer instead of drawn on paper) it was likely created in a program that uses vector art (Adobe Illustrator, Corel Draw, etc).  This original file is a necessity for consistent future usage of your logo.  Having access to an original file will allow most graphic designers and printers to manipulate your logo on various backgrounds and for various media.  Once your logo is saved as a TIFF, JPEG, WMF, BMP, or other non-original format, you lose the ability to manipulate it beyond basic sizing.

Create Your Logos for Print – Then Convert Them for Screen Usage
Standard print graphics quality is 300 dpi.  Standard screen/web graphics quality is 72 dpi.  When someone sends me a logo from their website, it often looks terrible when used in a printed piece.  It’s a simple matter to take a high quality logo and make it work for lesser applications.  The opposite is not true.  It’s also a good idea to maintain separate logos for print and web.  Video screens are designed to display every color as a combination of red, green and blue (RGB) as opposed to the CMYK system for printing.  Graphics in CMYK format won’t appear in your browser window.

Never Allow Manipulation of Your Logo
Never allow anyone (including yourself) to change the proportions, colors, fonts or graphics in your logo.  If your logo needs to be larger, it must be larger in both length and width – never stretch or distend your logo.  If your printer can’t match the colors of your logo then use a black and white version instead of substituting an alternate.  Avoid “reversing” your logo so that it appears in white on a black background.

Maintain Your Own Files
Clients frequently suggest I obtain a copy of their logo from a printer, sign shop or web designer they’ve worked with before.  However, the files I get are often re-creations of the original used for that vendor’s specific needs.  Before long, the logo your new printer or graphic designer is using is nothing like the one on your business card.  If you maintain your own logo files you can ensure each of your marketing and print vendors are using the exact same piece of brand artwork.

It may seem a hassle to demand proper usage of your logo, but as IBM proved, if you don’t, no one else will, and in the long term your brand image will suffer.